Broadcast weekly from 1935 to 1956, America's Town Meeting of the Air was one of the most important public service projects of NBC. It attracted up to 3,000,000 listeners weekly, more than 1,000 discussion clubs were formed to listen to the broadcasts and to debate the issues raised, and transcripts of each program were widely distributed at modest cost to the radio audience, teachers and schools.
The format of the show usually involved a pair or a panel of speakers representing different perspectives followed by a question and answer period from the audience. The first program in the series, Which Way America? Communism, Fascism, Socialism or Democracy? featured speakers energetically advocating each of these alternatives. Occasionally advocacy threatened to become physical and at least one libel suit was filed. But for the most part the speakers endeavored to be rational and respectful of their opponents The audience was a very different matter, difficult to hold in check, often entering into contentious debates with the speakers in a kind of radio free for all. The moderator, George V. Denny, Jr., associate director of the League for Political Education which originated the series, loved the rough and tumble of the program and, while working energetically to keep discussions from descending into riots, also loved the drama of verbal blood letting. Panelists included a broad range of contemporary notables from Eleanor Roosevelt to Norman Thomas, Dorothy Thomson and Langston Hughes.
Despite the vast popularity of the program, few recordings suvived, almost none easily accessible by the public. The programs presented here come from the National Archives and were converted to streaming QuickTime movies by the American Studies Programs at the University of Virginia.